17 February 2020
Article by Cobus Meiring
“Over the past two decades the Touw River in the Garden Route has become significantly shallower and the river channels narrower with ever-more reeds encroaching, and seemingly permanent islands forming. As a safety measure against flooding of bordering properties, the river mouth is bulldozed with regularity, and there is no more hope of the river flushing out the build-up of sand and silt, choking it slowly,” says Cobus Meiring of the Southern Cape Landowners Initiative (SCLI).
“The real and present danger of the Touw River system is that, shallow as it is at present, it will never again be able to cope with a huge flood, and combined with an Indian Ocean storm surge and strong wind, the masses of water from the mountains will have no place to go, even with the river mouth open.”
Part of the unique and protected Wilderness Lakes and Wetland system, the Touw River is an important link between the Indian Ocean and the large catchment areas in the Outeniqua Mountains.
“So, besides providing the whole of Wilderness, Hoekwil, Touwsrandten and the surrounding rural and farming community with fresh water, the river plays a vital role in the Garden Route ecology, both marine and terrestrial.”
Says Meiring: “Crossing the Touw River bridge and estuary as you drive along the N2 highway between Knysna and George is a scenic sight and riding along the river on the way to the award-winning Wilderness Ebb-and-Flow Rest Camp is like something out of a brochure. However, on an ecological level, much more must be done to restore the river system to its former functionality.”
Ecological integrity of the Touw River
“In addition to these complex issues disturbing the ecological integrity of the river, the many streams and wetlands flowing through the catchment, and feeding the river with fresh water, are badly affected by invasive alien plants. The invasive alien plants, not only absorbs vast amounts of water, but also degrade riverbanks, leading to earth becoming loose and washed downstream, all ending up in the Touw River.”
“In an all-out effort to assist landowners along the Touw River and up in its catchments to conserve the land they own, SCLI along with SANParks and the Touw River Conservancy has helped many landowners drawing up invasive alien control plans, but a whole lot more need doing if the system is to be restored to former functionality,” Meiring concludes.
** The Southern Cape Landowners Initiative (SCLI) is a public platform and think tank for landowners and land managers with an interest in invasive alien plant management, water stewardship and land management. SCLI is supported by the Table Mountain Fund (TMF), a subsidiary of WWF SA. SCLI also manages the Secretariat of the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF).